In my family, the equivalent to "when I was young, I walked to school through three feet of snow .. uphill — both ways!" is the distance it used to take to buy cilantro (though we call it dhanya).

If you've ever cooked Indian food, you know how essential this herb is, and when my parents first moved to our small city in the very late 1970s, they had to drive 45 minutes to a larger city to buy it. Not from a supermarket, but from an Indian grocery that was long and narrow, with four rows of shelves forming two aisles, stacked to the ceiling. There my parents would get on burlap sacks of rice and bags of atta (a type of flour) that came up to my childhood-height waist, vegetables like okra and bitter gourd, spices and dried lentils of all colours. Sometimes they'd come home with samosas, a plastic-wrapped tray of neon jalebi or a mixed box of halwa, luddu, gulab jamun and other sweets.

Kimchi Tofu Mandu | Tara O'Brady

These dumplings, kimchi-and-tofu filled mandu, aren't Indian, instead Korean (the kimchi might have been a giveaway), but I was reminded of those grocery trips when I was shopping for ingredients at one of the Asian markets in town. (The chain groceries here are now much more comprehensive, but I still go to the smaller shops when I can.) 

Kimchi Tofu Mandu | Tara O'Brady

My husband taught English in Korea, and the foods he misses most are barbecue, "special toast" (Gaeran toast) and vegetarian mandu. The latter two refer specifically to those made by a woman who ran a stall on his block. The toast was her unique combination of cabbage, cheese, egg and ketchup, sandwiched between bread and fried in butter, and while I've tried to pin down an approximation, I've never come close. The mandu was special, too. Many mandu will have ground pork or beef, often with mung bean sprouts and kimchi. This lady made hers with bean thread noodles, no kimchi, and were served crisp, dunked into a fiery soy-based sauce.

Since I've failed with the toast, I thought I would take a different tack for the dumplings; aiming instead for mandu that were similar, but different enough to save from comparison.

In went kimchi. (I love kimchi.)

That kimchi, hot and nose-pricklingly perfect as it is, tinges everything else in my chosen filling — the aforementioned bean noodles, some enoki, crumbled tofu curd, green onion and garlic —- an unfortunate pink hue.

I'll be the first to say it, the filling doesn't look like much in the bowl. Give it a chance.These mandu are entirely about texture, not looks, plus the stuffing gets folded up and crimped in a cover, anyway.

Kimchi Tofu Mandu | Tara O'Brady

Steamed or boiled, the dumpling wrapper has a bland, rubbery chew that gives way to an unexpected lightness within. The slick crunch of the kimchi and aromatic sting of the onion is mitigated by the spongy nubs of mushroom, while the tofu, wrung out of its moisture and mashed, is mild and balancing. The vermicelli is smooth and delicate, and the sesame oil adds a subtle, thrumming richness that runs through everything else. When fried, the contrast between exterior and interior is even more apparent.

The Asian market I went to the other day was just opening; one of the ladies who runs the shop was still pulling off the newspapers they use to cover the refrigerator cases at night. Below the dumpling wrappers there were trays of quail eggs, which were too cute to pass by. What's more, the combination of salt and chili and yolk isn't one to pass up either.

What I did pass up was a small rectangular tin, in between the boxes of Pocky and bottles of Kewpie mayo, shining blue and brass in an intricate pattern and the impressive label of Gourmet Powder. At the register I found out it was MSG. Still, I'm tempted to make another trip to pick it up, for the packaging alone.

After all, it's only 10 minutes away.


KIMCHI TOFU MANDU (Korean dumplings)

My own recipe. Vegan, though the eggs to serve are certainly not. Easily adapted for those who prefer gluten-free, in which case please see link below for homemade wrappers.

FOR THE DUMPLINGS (makes about 65)

  • 12 1/2 ounces / 350 g firm tofu
  • 8 ounces / 225 g cabbage kimchi
  • 3 1/2 ounces / 100 g bean thread noodles, prepared as per package
  • 3 1/2 ounces / 100 g enoki mushrooms, trimmed and blanched for 30 seconds
  • A small bunch green onions, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons tamari or soy sauce
  • 1 pound round dumpling wrappers, conventional or gluten-free (link to recipe)

TO SERVE (enough for approximately 32, serving 4 to 6)

  • 1/4 cup / 60 ml tamari or soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon natural cane or golden brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
  • A good pinch gochugaru (Korean hot pepper flakes), optional
  • Pea shoots
  • Soft-boiled eggs, optional

METHOD

Pat the tofu dry. If it still feels wet, wrap in a clean, lint-free tea towel and place a cutting board on top to press out water. Let stand for a few minutes. In a large bowl, mash the tofu with the back of a fork. Squeeze excess liquid from kimchi, chop finely, and add to the bowl. Do the same with the noodles and mushrooms, and stir into the tofu kimchi mixture, along with the green onions, garlic, sesame oil and tamari. Taste for seasoning, adding more oil or tamari as needed; the mixture should be quite dry. If you have time, cover and refrigerate for an hour or so to let the flavours develop.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly dust with cornstarch. Lay a few dumpling wrappers out on a work surface, and cover the rest with a damp, lint-free tea towel to keep from drying. Place about a teaspoon of filling in the centre of each of the arranged wrappers, then use fingers or a brush dampen the edges with a bit of water. I find it easiest to lay each filled (but open) wrapper across my palm, forming the dumpling between my hands, that might not be the case for everyone. In hand or on the counter, fold each dumpling in half, pushing out all the air and pressing the edges together to seal. Wet the corners and bend inwards to bring them together, overlapping slightly. Pinch gently to secure. Place on the prepared sheet and cover with another piece of parchment. Repeat with remaining wrappers and filling. 

If not cooking right away, freeze the mandu on the baking sheet, making sure to leave some room in between. Once firm, transfer to an airtight container for storage. 

To cook, steam, boil in water or broth to make soup, sauté, shallow fry, or fry/steam for potstickers. (For specifics on potsticker technique, Heidi has instructions.) Since there is no raw meat involved, the filling simply needs to be warmed through and the wrappers cooked and tender, which should take only a few minutes.

When ready to serve make a sauce by combing tamari, water, rice vinegar, sugar, sesame oil, sesame seeds and gochugaru in a bowl. Arrange cooked mandu on a serving plate, surrounded by pea shoots or other greens, and eggs, if using. Drizzle with some of the sauce and divide the rest among smalls bowls for dipping. 


///////

A completely unrelated p.s. — Nikole wrote about a ice cream cake I made for a story we did with Michael for Kinfolk magazine last year. If you're interested in the mint-and-vanilla details, be sure to check it out. 


Posted
Authortara
14 CommentsPost a comment

I'm running terribly, terribly late.

It's a recent tendency of mine. I was almost late for a holiday get together of my own organizing, and I'm regularly the last one up in the mornings. I'm not proud. But, as I'm here with a silky, milky, lush bowl of breakfasty goodness, well, maybe you won't mind the tardiness much.

Poached + Blistered Figs

Over a month ago, verging on a month-and-half ago, Megan's book, Whole Grain Mornings,  was released. She's a busy lady, not just with the book, but writing for The Kitchn and elsewhere, and she's behind the exceptionally-hearalded Marge Granola (a line named after her grandmother, with super cute packaging and an apricot flavour that has my attention). 

Since I am one of the people who helped test recipes, I can't offer up a full-on book review. I can tell you, however, that in my cupboard there is a jar of her whole grain pancake mix (with spelt, oats and buckwheat), and that the resulting flapjacks are surprisingly, unbelievably fluffy, despite their virtue.

Creamy Breakfast Grains

I can also be frank about her creamy breakfast grains, a bowl of which I'm eating right now, in the middle of the afternoon, with a cup of tea. 

I made my snack with pearled barley, because I already had some cooked. I don't think Megan will mind, as one of the most charming things about her is her repeated encouragement to make her recipes your own. She supplies are footnotes and headnotes of suggestions, and her cheerful enthusiasm for the dishes is apparent.

In this grain porridge, barley was a fine fit. Its roundness seems to contribute to its chewiness, and the smooth pearls retain all their shape and springiness, even after a second cooking. The pistachios have a hint of crunch, but not that much; the waxy nuts are almost the same density as the grains, and match exceptionally nicely. The stars of the affair are, of course, the figs. The recipe calls for fresh, but if none are around, her method would be the way to encourage some life back into dried ones.

Megan poaches the figs gently, to the point where they feel plump and heavy, just this side of bursting. They absorb the resiny murmur from the honey in the cooking liquid, while the syrup gains a musky edge from the fruit. Split, then draped in an extra dressing of syrup, the figs are a proper treat at breakfast, and would be as welcome at dessert as they were at tea time, which could be said of many of the book's recipes. Though I've mentioned the sweeter side of the collection, it has a savoury side to share — lunch and dinner inspiration may be found, too.

Congratulations Megan, on all the success. Hurrahs from here. xo

Creamy Breakfast Grains

CREAMY BREAKFAST GRAINS with HONEY-POACHED FIGS + PISTACHIOS

From Whole Grain Mornings: New Breakfast Recipes to Span the Seasons (Ten Speed Press, 2013). 

Rice pudding is one of my ultimate comfort foods, so developing this creamy whole-grain breakfast rice was a real treat, and I now turn to this recipe year-round. It's not too sweet on its own, relying instead on the earthy flavour of ripe fall figs. While many people prepare breakfast rice by actually cooking the rice in milk, I love this cheater's version because it uses cooked rice that's quickly heated in a pot of milk, so it gets super creamy and soft while still maintaining its characteristic chew. I'll often make a double batch of rice for dinner in the evening, knowing I want to get a pot of this going the next morning. 

Poaching figs is simple, but there's a fine line between perfectly poached and overdone. I poach figs with the stems on and remove them later—this will help keep them from getting mushy. Smaller figs cook quicker. Ultimately, you want the figs soft but not splitting or bursting open—always a delicate balance. Erring on the side of underpoaching is preferable. — Megan

Serves 4.

FOR THE FIGS

  • 3 cups water
  • 3/4 cup / 180 ml honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 10 washed ripe fresh gigs (about 8.5 ounces / 240 g; I like black Mission or Brown Turkey)

FOR THE CREAMY GRAINS

  • 3 cups / 400 g cooked long-grain brown rice
  • 1 1/2 cups / 360 ml whole milk or nut milk (low-fat or nonfat milk will make a thinner rice)
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup 
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup / 45 g pistachios, chopped

To poach the figs: Bring the water, honey, and salt to a boil over medium-high heat in a small saucepan. Decrease the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until all the liquid begins to reduce and thicken to the consistency of a light syrup about 20 minutes. Ultimately, you should be left with about 1 3/4 cups liquid. Set the figs into the honey syrup. To poach the figs successfully, you want to make sure they're mostly covered in liquid, so if you need to switch to a smaller saucepan, now is the time. Simmer over medium0low heat until tender, 8 to 10 minutes, gently turning them and scooting them around so each side is poached evenly. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the figs to a plate to cool slightly. Once cool enough to touch, carefully slice off the stems and cut the figs in half. 

To make the rice: In a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, combine the cooked rice, milk, maple syrup, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt and cook, uncovered, until the mixture begins to thicken, 10 to 12 minutes. Stir occasionally to avoid sticking. Note that this should be a looser, almost milky dish: the rice won't soak up all of the liquid, and it will continue to thicken off the heat. Remove from the heat and let sit for a few minutes to cool ever so slightly and firm up a bit.

To serve: Divide the rice between 4 bowls. Top with the poached figs and the pistachios. I like to spoon a bit of the syrupy poaching liquid over the top of each bowl, too. If you have leftover rice, reheat in the morning, adding a dash more milk. 

Notes from Tara:

  • As said before, I used cooked barley instead of rice. I changed the title to reflect the photographs, but the recipe remains as written in the book.
  • I skipped the maple in my barley and used the same honey I'd used for the figs, since it was already out. Some hemp hearts and bee pollen were added to the pistachios.
  • I have a weakness for roasted figs. After poaching and splitting, to get some direct, dry heat on these pretties, I introduced them to a hot broiler for a few minutes — just enough to curl their edges and create a slightly caramelized crust.
Posted
Authortara
Categoriesbreakfast
11 CommentsPost a comment